As a newly launched label in San Francisco, Bells & Becks has worked to immerse itself as a staple brand. The European shoe label launched online to "provide fashion and functionality for the modern women living a busy lifestyle and requiring her shoes to be versatile yet sophisticated," according to a press release by the company. Since the brand launched recently, FashionUnited chatted with the label's chief executive officer Tamar Miller for insight on debuting a new label in today's fashion climate.
Can you tell us about what makes Bells & Becks unique?
Bells & Becks (www.bellsandbecks.com) is a leading source for discovering distinctive, luxury footwear for the modern woman. It is a collection of wearable and sophisticated shoes that are handcrafted in some of the best Italian footwear factories that produce for top-tier designers. Because the shoes are sold direct to consumer through our website and trunk shows, we cut out the wholesale mark-up and are able to offer the same luxury quality and craftsmanship as the high-end designers, but at a significantly lower pricepoint.
How did you launch the label?
The product vision for Bells & Becks was inspired by my years as a professional shoe merchant and discriminating shopper. I saw the opportunity to build a collection of chic luxury footwear that would be wearable for women with a busy lifestyle that require versatility in their wardrobe. The concept of wearability is important. I’m focused on the shoes that women can wear for “real life” – running from meeting to meeting, attending a conference all day, heading to dinner with friends, attending the school function, or traveling whether for business or pleasure and still look and feel “put together”. I’ve also honed-in on the idea of sophisticated femininity. So many of the shoes today are gender neutral, and in many cases, they are heavy and clunky. Bells & Becks is a footwear collection that is distinctive, high quality, and delivers on versatility and modern femininity – a rare combination today.
With previous experience at various elite retailers, how did that ultimately lead to you launching Bells & Becks?
I’ve loved shoes my entire life, and I am one of the lucky few that had the opportunity to turn that passion into a career. Over the years, I’ve held leadership footwear roles at Lord and Taylor, Macy’s and Piperlime. These helped me develop a deep knowledge of the shoe category – what women want, what works, and what doesn’t. In addition to the technical aspects of the shoe business, I also got to know an amazing group of passionate “shoe dogs” (people that lived and breathed footwear their entire careers). Footwear has become not only my passion but also, in some ways, my professional “family”. Over time, I also became a kind of shoe dog myself.
I attended business school because I was interested in retail disruption. At the time, e-commerce was still entirely nascent – other than Amazon selling books, there wasn’t much out there. We couldn't foresee that we were on the precipice of an entirely new way to shop and experience brands that would change the face of retail. Eventually, I pivoted my focus and got entrenched in digital commerce, running merchandising (product strategy) for e-commerce businesses including Banana Republic and Old Navy. I learned about the customer journey and how technology was completely shifting the consumer experience. The big-box retailers were suffering, and new and disruptive retail businesses continued to pop up everywhere capturing market share and driving growth in surprising places.
The original concept for Bells & Becks came to me on a business trip to Italy where I attended The Micam (one of the largest shoe shows in the world). I so clearly remember the moment I walked into the first pavilion (there were several mega pavilions, all filled with amazing shoes). It was an experience like no other I’ve ever had in my career. Everywhere I looked, there were these incredible shoes – I had discovered product I’d never seen in the U.S… What became clear on that trip was that boutique factories simply can’t support mass-market distribution. There was this entire world of unique quality product that simply wasn’t available here.
I saw the opportunity to bring these amazing shoe discoveries to customers back home. The idea of bringing distinctive, luxury footwear that reflects my point of view to the market has been percolating ever since that trip. Eventually, I decided it was time to combine my passion for and experience in footwear with my background in e-commerce, and I took the plunge and launched Bells & Becks about a year ago.
How much would you say you expect Bells & Becks to generate in revenue in each season?
Bells & Becks is just starting out, so it’s simply too soon to speak to future revenue expectations, but the plan is to drive significant growth in the first few years in order to achieve a level of financial sustainability that aligns with a boutique specialty brand. That said, Bells & Becks will only be available on our website (www.bellsandbecks.com) or through trunk shows in order to maintain our accessible prices. The plan is for Bells & Becks to remain highly curated and special.
What is the current price point for these shoes?
Bells & Becks flats currently retail for $345 with booties at $365. Our sandals for Spring retail between $185 and $225.
In what ways does the city of San Francisco influence the type shoes you design?
San Francisco and the surrounding areas (including Silicon Valley, Marin, and the East Bay) tend to be casual. It’s common to see tech professional running around in shorts, hoodies, and sneakers. There’s also a very strong hipster vibe in Northern California that tends to favor a gender-neutral apparel and footwear point of view. In many ways, Bells & Becks is the antithesis of these trends. In the midst of all the noise around millennials, there’s an entire set of sophisticated, Gen X women that are seeking out something feminine, modern, and versatile for their busy lifestyle.
Northern California (and California, in general), tends to have consistently mild weather. Bells & Becks will always have an assortment of great, wearable shoes that are perfect nearly year-round in the Bay Area. We won’t be designing rain gear or all-weather boots for snowy terrain. The focus of the collection will continue to be amazing, versatile shoes that work year-round in San Francisco and across the country.
How has the brand been doing since its launch last month?
It’s still early days, as we just recently launched, but the response to the brand has exceeded my expectations. First and foremost, everyone genuinely loves the shoes. The product and the messaging seem to have come together seamlessly and is resonating with women that are looking for amazing quality, wearability, and sophistication. Beyond that, the value is very clear to customers from the minute they put the shoes on. The shoes not only look great, but the feel of luxury is present, they fit beautifully, and they are comfortable from the first wearing. Nearly every product has received five-star reviews from customers on the site.
Do you feel your past work in the fashion industry helped with launching a new brand?
There are so many elements that go into launching a new brand, but from my perspective, the most critical element was defining the product concept and bringing that vision to life. After 25 years working in retail merchandising, I’ve developed a discerning eye and a keen understanding of what the consumer wants. It helps that I am a woman making shoes for women. Through my years of experience working in retail merchandising, I’ve become an expert at product curation – finding the hidden gems in a crowded marketplace and pulling together an assortment that is going to resonate with customer needs. I wanted to bring that curation approach to launching Bells & Becks.
Any future plans for Bells & Becks this year?
Bells & Becks is off to a great start with the inaugural collection, and I’m excited to be building out new silhouettes and expand the assortment into more exciting flats and booties for early Fall and Holiday. We will definitely be adding shoe shapes (round and square toes) as well as some great color options – specifically in the red family (a color I’m super excited about for the Fall).
Photo Source:Bells & Becks